Growing up in Puerto Rican home, I never had the pleasure of eating food prepared with this Harina PAN. This is a pre-cooked white corn flour which is used throughout Latin America in preparing a variety of dishes. The dishes have different names, but they are remarkably similar in their preparation and in their accompaniments. This flour, combined with some warm water and salt, comes together to form a masa. It's the same as how fresh tortillas are made. The masa is then shaped into round patties, and fried in a pan or griddle.
The yummy part comes when you slice these things open (like pitas), and fill them with all kinds of good stuff. In Venezuela, the patties are called arepas. Many people fill them with scrambled eggs and/or cheese. Believe me, it beats an Egg McMuffin by a mile. In fact, the arepa filled with egg and cheese was my first intro to this wonderful treat.
While I was a student at the University of Miami, I made friends with a lovely girl named Gabriela, who was born in Costa Rica but was raised in Venezuela. Gabi and I eventually became roommates, and one day she made this for breakfast. I made her swear that day that she would make this for me at least twice a week. Of course, she had to teach me how to make the dish as well. She did, but she found it funny that I had to be taught to put together corn flour, water, and salt.
In El Salvador, the dish is called pupusas. The patties are served as an accompaniment to a meat dish, usually either a stewed beef or pork, served with a delicious slaw. Now, I've been meaning to head over to this Salvadorean restaurant not far from me--and you'd better believe this is what I'll be eating. From what I've heard, Los Angeles has a tremendous array of Salvadorean restaurants to try; so if you're in that area, check it out.
I've been trying to figure out what a good American equivalent would be to arepas, to give people something to compare it to. I guess if you've ever had hoe cakes that's getting pretty close. Think of a delicious corn fritter, then slice it open and fill it with one of your favorite things. That's about as close as I've been able to get to an American version.
Tomorrow morning it's going to be arepas with scrambled eggs at Casa de Flamenco. My kids have renamed these crabby patties (a la Spongebob Squarepants). Hey, whatever gets them to eat their breakfast, right?